Italian Word of the Day: Scaramanzia (superstition)

Scaramanzia is a particular subset of superstizione (superstition) aimed at averting perceived negative influences associated with people, places, and objects through the use of phrases such as magic spells, gestures, and items like amulets and lucky charms. While these practices vary across cultures and time periods, they are prevalent worldwide, and Italy is no exception.

/sca·ra·man·zì·a/ – [skaramanˈtsia]
Italian word "scaramanzia"

A classic example of scaramanzia is the belief that saying or doing something could prevent or even cause the opposite outcome. For instance, there’s the notion that going out without an umbrella ensures rain, while carrying one guarantees it won’t rain.

Another prime example is the classic Italian phrase in bocca al lupo. Instead of wishing someone buona fortuna (good luck), you express a desire for them to be devoured by a wolf. This parallels the English phrase break a leg.

Although the etymology is uncertain, it is suspected that scaramanzia derives from chiromanzia (chiromancy), which is the act of predicting a person’s future by observing the lines on the palms of their hands.

Here are the definite and indefinite articles used with this feminine noun:

  • la scaramanzia = the superstition
  • le scaramanzie = the superstitions
  • una scaramanzia = a superstition
  • delle scaramanzie = some superstitions
Unrecognizable man touching the sole of an iron with finger
Tocca ferro! = Touch wood! (literally “touch iron”)

You will often hear the expression per scaramanzia which means “to avoid attracting bad luck.” In English, it’s usually translated as for luck, just in case or just to be on the safe side.

The adjective scaramantico (feminine: scaramantica) is used to describe someone with superstitious tendencies, and it can also be used as a noun to mean superstitious person.

alone scared black homless cat sits on street afraid of
Un gatto nero = A black cat

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